I have always had an eye towards fitness—even when I was pregnant I maintained my dedication to being as healthy and fit as I possibly could. Even so, prior to the birth of my first child, I felt justified eating many of the same foods I enjoyed as a child in the South. That means I didn’t shy away from southern staples like fried chicken, sweet potato pie, and collard greens (cooked with the pre-requisite ham hocks/neck bones) on the occasions they were made available.
My justification was that I didn’t indulge in these types of foods often, so why worry about eating them on the minimal occasions that I did find my plate near their simmering goodness. And, good gracious, who can turn down granny’s homemade fare—ever? The trouble with such thinking was it often wasn’t relegated to singular moments. I found that once I allowed the gate to open, I took far more liberties than I should have allowed.
I snagged a pastry or two from the lounge at work, ate lunch out with colleagues, “rewarded” myself with a weekend jaunt to my favorite restaurant, treated myself to that cheesy, jalapeno laced, nacho concoction they offered at the cinema…the list was endless.
Again, the justification being, I didn’t get fit to stay famished and I was, for the most part, good with my diet and ate even the worse stuff in moderation.
Even so, the commitment I made to myself was to maintain a level of awareness that went beyond outer appearances. If I was going to live a healthy lifestyle, that meant living it at all times—no cheats, no shortcuts. And, I have to tell you, that was hard for me.
If you read here often, you know I wasn’t raised on junk or processed foods, but there are still plenty of ways to make a good thing bad if you aren’t educating yourself about food and how it works in your body. For example, those tasty collard greens made by granny were certainly delicious to the palate, but the ham hocks and salt added to “enhance” their flavor was not.
I find that cooking veggies in organic broths and seasoning with herbs yields a plate of greens that is just as flavorful—again, you have to step outside the box.
That said, my pantry has found other items that work for me:
1. Almond Milk: I’m not much of a milk drinker, but back when I was calorie counting on a daily basis, I needed to find a comparable alternative that wasn’t so unfriendly on the wasteline—enter almond milk. Where soy milk often left me with a bitter aftertaste, almond milk (the unsweetened variety) did not and that appealed to me greatly. I often use it for cooking certain dishes and offer it to my kids as a companion to their favorite breakfast cereal.
2. Black beans: I have yet to convince my husband that a black bean burger can be every bit as tasty as one made from ground beef, but he’s at least considering giving them a whirl. Other than that, any legume of your choice offers a workable alternative to any dish that calls for ground beef—chili and burritos in particular.
3. Greek yogurt: you might not believe this, but as a substitute for sour cream, there is no better brand of yogurt to use than Fage. It has the same consistency and if combined with your favorite chunky salsa, you’ll hardly note the difference.There are so many uses for this stuff, it’s ridiculous.
4. Seafood: I don’t eat meat much these days, but as a girl raised in Savannah, GA, it would be difficult for me to completely forsake my seafood roots. That said, I see no harm in pan-searing a piece of tilapia or salmon a few times a month. Mussels is another favorite; I often saute them in garlic and a little butter, just until the shells open up, and then throw in a handful of tofu noodles to simmer along with them for that final 15-minutes—delicious.
5. Tofu noodles: I’m a pasta lover, but I cannot deal with the carbs and whole grain pastas tend to be a bit on grainy side. So, I started using tofu noodles (again as a means of cutting calories). They are a wonderful low-calorie option and, like regular tofu, pick up the flavor of whatever you cook them alongside (see mussel reference above). I must warn you, however, straight out the package they won’t warm your heart as they are packaged in lime water.
6. Granola (homemade or organically bought): I’ve stopped eating flavored yogurts because of their sugar content, but I don’t mind buying plain greek yogurt (see Fage above) and mixing granola, or fresh fruit, along with a dash of cinnamon or a packet of my favorite low calorie sweetener as a means of flavoring it myself.
7. Gardein: I usually limit my processed food intake to items that have four ingredients or less and are organic in nature, but it wouldn’t be unusual to find several of these items in my freezer right now as I am not immune to fixing myself a vegetarian friendly meal in a pinch. My favorite is the Chick’n Scallopini; I often cover it with a bit of Wholly Salsa and serve it up alongside a nice salad or a plate of my favorite steamed veggies.
8. Yogurt dressing: As you can imagine, salads are a major part of my diet. I love salads and have found many ways to make them both filling and delicious. That said, nothing ruins a good salad like a fat-laden dressing—enter yogurt to save the day. I’m a ranch dressing fan, so this was right up my alley. It’s more than half the fat (per serving) of regular ranch dressing and sacrifices little, if any, of the flavor—not even my hubby can tell you the difference between the two.
I’ll end by saying this, everything I mentioned above works for me and my family, but you have to do what works for you. There are hundreds of great products out there if you’re willing to take a chance and do a little hands-on research. Like anything, you’ll find some duds along the way, but in so doing you’ll also be adding to your overall knowledge base and that’s part of the reward.
But, I also caution you by saying that any packaged items you opt to buy should act as compliments to a home cooked meal and not the basis for the meal itself. Frozen vegetables are safe in most forms, but any food you have to heat to eat was probably processed in such a way that it’s not nearly as healthy as your body would like it to be, so limit your intake of such items as much as possible and stick to eating fresh and local when possible.
Even more, always read nutritional labels! Do not assume that just because it says ‘organic’ or ‘low fat’ or whatever, that it’s “healthy”. You have to be responsible for your own awareness and remember that most every food maker is out to make a profit of some kind and to do so they will all have to make a compromise somewhere. It’s up to you to decide if the compromise they made is something you’re okay accepting.
Anyway, off the soap box I go. Happy food hunting!